Shame Is A Formula That Follows You

Q. I’m a straight woman in a (very happy) monogamous marriage. My sex drive has always been a little on the low side, due to some medications I’m taking and a variety of other things, but it’s never been a problem. My husband and I find a way to balance our sex drives and things have been great, and when they haven’t, we’ve talked it out. Lately, I’ve found myself masturbating a lot more than I normally do, and I’ve been getting off almost exclusively to (male) gay porn. And I haven’t told my husband. Gay porn’s not his thing, but I don’t think he’d judge me or be mad or anything like that. We’ve watched porn (of all kinds) together in the past. So I’m wondering: why this particular thing all of a sudden, and why am I feeling the need to hide it? 

A. Shame is a hell of a thing, isn’t it?

I mean, even when we think we have outwitted it, escaped it, gotten smarter, better, wiser, more accepting and damn near smashed it into oblivion so that it will never bother us again, what do you know, there it is.

There it is.

I know you know. I know he probably would know, if he knew. But that’s not how shame works. Shit, my love, that’s not how they want it to work. They? Oh, you mean “they,” the royal “they,” as in “they” who make up the rules, “they” who govern how one should be, “they” who apply unreachable standards to every single one around them that “they” themselves could never even reach. At the risk of sounding off on something as specific and intangible as “the man” or ” the system,” I do want to emphasize to you not these key words, often dropped in any sort of conversation about unfair social roles. Rather, I want to talk about how while “the man” and “the system” are things of great consequence and frustration, it’s not just  the all-encompassing, semi-invisible floating forces of symbology that sound the alarm when you decide to do anything that bends the norm. It’s the everyday micro-occurrences. The flash moments of judgment, and the internalized social gunk. The type that comes from the people you know. Or worst, the type that comes from yourself.

If your situation were to look like a formula, it would look something like this. Porn = XXX x(30). That normal, but still subversive equation, gives the properties of porn a socialized stigma based on the gender of the intended audience of the porn (predominantly male) and those who do not fit into that audience, yet still enjoy it. This enjoyment factor for those outside of the intended audience can bring on further stigma based on the following: do you feel that you should watch porn, since porn is inherently X, therefore you are doing something wrong (keep following my math here). Now, take XXX x(30) and multiply it again with the stigma content. So if we think of regular, heterosexual porn, something you are going to see on Redtube’s top twenty, you would give it a XXX x (20) . Stigmatized, but also pretty normal in the scope of being a “male audience.” Now, gay porn? And not the two straight girls pretending to be gay porn? I’m talking something you would find on Manhub in the leather daddy section? XXX x (70), based on content and how readily accepted it is by society, and based on you, the not intended audience, being an audience.

Are you still following me?

Now, divide all of this by perceptions of desire (of who can desire what, who can feel desire, and what the desire is for) and voila! You have possibly not only one of the worst formulas out there, but you have an inkling of why you may be feeling ashamed. A larger, less specific someone is saying this is not for you. It is wrong. That you may or may not be a “freak” and that you should feel bad about that. You are self-conscious because there is the self you should be, and the self you think you are. The self you would be should not enjoy gay porn. The self you are does. You have imagined you, in the eyes of the other, and have been told that is the truth.

Chew on this for a moment. Psychoanalyst Helen B. Lewis points out the following about shame:

The experience of shame is directly about the self, which is the focus of evaluation. In guilt, the self is not the central object of negative evaluation, but rather the thing done is the focus…While guilt is a painful feeling of regret and responsibility for one’s actions, shame is a painful feeling about oneself as a person.

But the core of shame, the thing that really makes it such a devastating feeling? There isn’t really one “said” way that gives its knotty fingers a much stealthier hold on our lives that we really ever imagined. There is no one activity or behavior, other than potential deviance. Shame starts out as a feeling projected by others that we internalize, and only after time and time again do we begin to shame ourselves. Shame has a poor memory. Shame has an excellent growing habit. Shame is like spilling an indigo dye all over your white dress and having everyone watch you grocery shop in it.

So what do you do, my precious lamb? You could take a gander at the many ways that folks have gotten over their shame. But my advice to you? Let go of being judged. You say you have a happy and wonderful marriage to an awesome partner. Great! Mazel Tov! But perhaps part of you feels guilty for having a lower sex drive. Not because having a lower sex drive is bad, not because having a higher sex drive is good, but because those great “they” folks we were talking about earlier want there to be one way for you to be a sexual person, even though “they” don’t even agree on what that one way is. Sex drive too low? You’ll chase off your man! Sex drive too high? What are you, some sort of whore? You, yes, even you, are capable of being influenced by this, even if in your very smart frontal lobe brain you know that it is wrong, wrong, wrong. Shame wants you to feel bad for feeling desire. For not feeling it the way you should around your husband. For feeling it with something subversive. For feeling desire. For being judged.

So be judged.

Yes, be judged. Stand up on the podium where they burn all the witches and whores and proclaim what it is for which you feel shame. Proclaim it louder than anything you have ever before. Then, let everyone judge. This is the only step to getting past shame — to expose ourselves to the potential and more than likely judgment we might feel for what we want and who we are. To be frank, I don’t think your husband will judge you. He might be tickled, he might even be a little insecure. But I don’t think he will judge — at least not out loud. But it’s a risk you have to take. When you two stood up in front of family and friends and swore that you would be there for better or worse, that doesn’t just mean unemployment, happy times, and sickness. It also means through bouts of shame and fear. It means you’ll be there for each other with understanding and support. It means that in this mean world of ours, where “they” want you to feel shamed until you run into a corner and die? Your partner is there to support you, gay porn and all. But you have to risk being judged. Not because partners have to share all their porn habits, but because you specifically feel the need to hide this, which is a source of shame and of guilt. That feeling is going to eat you alive and never allow for a real pleasure and it is up to you to step up to your partner and say, “I like gay porn.” The banality of this statement will shock you. The reaction might shock you even more. But until you risk being judged, there isn’t any other way to shed the shame that crawls around your brain and heart and tells you that you are bad for feeling the way you do. Risk it.


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By TheLadyMiss

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